THE IMPORTANCE OF ONE VOTE
By Mary W. Morgan, Supervisor of Elections, Collier County, Florida
The most often heard excuse for not voting in an election is “my one little vote won’t make a difference.” Yet history is full of instances proving the enormous power of one single vote. In many cases, the course of nations has been changed because one individual ballot was cast, or not cast, depending upon your point of view. Consider this:
- In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England.
- In 1649, one vote literally cost King Charles I of England his head. The vote to behead him was 67 against and 68 for—the ax fell thanks to one vote.
- In 1714, one vote placed King George I on the throne of England and restored the monarchy.
- In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German (at least according to folk lore.)
- In 1800, the Electoral College met in the respective states to cast their two votes for President. At that time, the U.S. Constitution provided the candidate receiving the most electoral votes would become President and the candidate receiving the second highest number of votes would become Vice President. When the results of the Electoral College votes were opened by both houses of Congress, there was a tie vote for President between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. That threw the election of President into the House of Representatives where Thomas Jefferson was elected our third president by a one-vote margin.
- In 1824, none of the four Presidential candidates received an electoral majority. The election was again thrown into the House of Representatives, where John Quincy Adams defeated front runner Andrew Jackson by one vote to become the nation’s 6th president. Andrew Jackson received the majority of the nation’s popular vote.
- In 1844 in the backwoods area of Switzerland County, Indiana on election day, a farmer named Freeman Clark lay seriously ill in bed. He begged his sons to carry him to the county seat so he could vote for David Kelso to become a state senator. David Kelso had defended old Freeman Clark on a murder charge and obtained his acquittal. The old farmer Freeman Clark got to vote for Kelso but Clark died on his way back home. Kelso won the election by one vote. Both Freeman Clark and David Kelso were long-time Andrew Jackson supporters.
- In 1844 when the new Indiana senate convened, Democrats had a majority of one, counting David Kelso. At that time, state senates had the task of electing the states’ United States Senator. The Indiana Senate Democrats held a caucus where it developed a majority of the party delegation favored a man who would vote against the annexation of Texas if elected to the U.S. Senate. David Kelso refused to vote for the Democratic Party choice, and a deadlock resulted between the Democratic and Whig candidates. This continued for days. Finally, Kelso made his move. He proposed a new candidate: Edward A. Hannigan. In his party caucus, Kelso notified his Democratic associates he would bolt and vote with the Whigs—thus electing a Whig to the Senate—unless the Democrats supported Hannigan. The Democrats felt constrained to accept Hannigan who was then elected as Indiana’s U.S. Senator by one vote—that of David Kelso.
- In 1845, Texas was admitted to the union as a state by one vote—that of Edward A. Hannigan from Indiana. The 1844 and 1845 excerpts on the series of single votes leading to Texas statehood are from the book Magnificent Destiny.
- In 1846, a one-vote margin in the U.S. Senate approved President Polk’s request for a Declaration of War against Mexico.
- In 1850, California was admitted to the union by a margin of one vote.
- In 1859, Oregon was admitted to the union by a margin of one vote.
- The Alaska Purchase of 1867 was ratified by just one vote—paving the way for the eventual annexation of America’s largest state in 1958.
- In 1868, one vote in the U.S. Senate saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.
- In 1875, a one-vote margin changed France from a monarchy to a republic.
- In 1875, Florida’s U.S. Senators were still elected by the state Legislature. Democrat Charles W. Jones of Pensacola was elected by the U.S. Senate by a majority of one vote.
- In 1876, no presidential contender received a majority of electoral votes so the determination of the country’s president was again thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives. By a one-vote margin, Rutherford B. Hayes became the new U.S. president. When Tilden’s party protested the tabulation and demanded a recount, Congress established a 15-member electoral commission to again count the electoral votes and declare the result. By an eight to seven margin—again, one vote—the commission affirmed the count and gave the election and presidency to Hayes.
- In 1885, two members of the Florida House of Representatives waged a friendly but close contest for Speaker of the House. Robert W. Davis of Green Cove Springs defeated Gen. Ernest Yonge of Pensacola by one vote.
- In 1889, by a one-vote margin, Washington was admitted to statehood with the union.
- In 1890, by a one-vote margin, Idaho became a state.
- In 1916, if presidential hopeful Charles E. Hughes had received one additional vote in each of California’s precincts, he would have defeated President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election bid.
- On November 8, 1923, members of the then recently-formed revolutionary political party met to elect a leader in a Munich, Germany beer hall. By a majority of one vote, they chose an ex-soldier named Adolph Hitler to become the NAZI Party leader.
- In 1940, the vote taken by the French parliament to maintain its status as a republic failed by a margin of one vote.
- In 1941, the Selective Service Act (the draft) was saved by a one-vote margin—just weeks before Pearl Harbor was attacked.
- In 1948, a Texas convention voted for Lyndon B. Johnson over ex-Governor Coke Stevens in a contested Senatorial election. Lyndon Johnson because U.S. Senator by a one-vote margin.
- In 1948, if Thomas E. Dewey had gotten one vote more per precinct in Ohio and California, the presidential election would have been thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives where Dewey enjoyed more support than his rival—incumbent Harry Truman. As it was, Dewey was expected to win the general election by a landslide, so most Republicans stayed home. Only 51.5 percent of the electorate voted. Truman defeated Dewey.
- In a 1955 city election in Huron, Ohio, the mayor was elected to office by one vote.
- In a 1959 city election, mayors of both Rose Creek and Odin, Minnesota were elected to their respective offices by one vote.
- In the 1960 presidential election, an additional one vote per precinct in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, and Texas may have altered the course of America’s modern history by denying John F. Kennedy the presidency and placing Richard Nixon in the White House eight years earlier.
- In 1962, the governors of Maine, Rhode Island, and North Dakota were all elected by a margin of one vote per precinct.
- In 1984, a Monroe County, Florida commissioner was elected by one vote.
- In 1994, the U.S. House of Representatives enacted a law banning specific classes of assault weapons. The vote was initially tied but one member changed his vote to approve the ban.
- Bills proposing amendment to the U.S. Constitution require a two-thirds vote of each House in order to be approved. When the balanced budget amendment bill came before the U.S. Senate in March, 1995, the measure failed by one vote—Mark Hatfield, Republican from Oregon, was the sole Republican failing to vote with other members of the Republican Party, which was the majority party of the U.S. Senators. When it became apparent the measure would fail, Senate Republican Whip, Bob Dole, changed his vote to enable him to bring the matter back up under parliamentary rules for a vote in the future.
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